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Probate Court

Probate is the court procedure that transfers the legal ownership of people's property after they die. The department in superior court that handles probate matters often is called probate court.

About Probate

Probate means that there is a court case that deals with:

  • Deciding if a will exists and is valid;
  • Figuring out who are the decedent's heirs and beneficiaries;
  • Figuring out how much the decedent's property is worth;
  • Taking care of the decedent's financial responsibilities; and
  • Transferring the decedent's property to their heirs and beneficiaries.

In a probate case, an executor (if there is a will) or an administrator (if there is no will) is appointed by the court as personal representative to collect the assets, pay the debts and expenses, and then distribute the remainder of the estate to the beneficiaries (those who have the legal right to inherit), all under the supervision of the court. The entire case can take between 9 months to 1 ½ years, maybe even longer.

A deceased person's estate will not be handled in probate court if there is a surviving spouse and the estate consists entirely of community property, or the dead person's property is held in joint tenancy with another person. Property transferred by gift before death, or placed into certain types of "living trusts," also is not subject to probate.

Overview of the Steps Involved

Within 30 days after the person dies, the person who has the decedent's will must file it with the superior court of the county in which the decedent lived. The probate judge makes sure it is the decedent's last will, appoints the executor names in the will (or appoints an administrator), and supervises the executor's work.

The probate court issues "Letters Testamentary" or "Letters of Administration" naming the executor or administrator. During the administration of the estate, certified copies of these letters may be needed by banks, title companies, tact authorities, and others.

The law requires publication of a Notice of Petition to Administer Estate. This is a Notice to all creditors to file their claims against the estate. Creditors usually have four months to file their claims.

Probate court oversees the distribution of the estate under the terms of the will. If no will exists, state laws determine who gets the deceased person's estate. The court will direct distribution of the estate according to those laws.

Where to Get More Info

More information about Wills, Estates and Probate can be found on the California Courts' Self-Help page on Guide to wills, estates, and probate court.

Guide to wills, estates, and probate court

You may also wish to consult with an attorney, especially when multiple heirs or varied types of assets are inv

Probate FAQs

Robert Barclay Justice Center, located at 205 South East Street, Alturas, CA 96101.

Probate matters tend to move along slowly. Many detailed steps are required to ensure that all creditors are paid, all property is identified, all taxes are paid, and title to each asset is properly transferred.

Typically, it takes four to six weeks after the decedent's death to appoint an executor or administrator. Even in the most routine probates, the law requires a minimum four-month wait after the Notice to creditors has been issued before any action can be taken to distribute or close the estate. And if an estate requires the preparation and filing of a federal estate tax return (IRS Form 706), the process can be expected to take longer. The financial circumstances of each decedent vary widely, so some estates may require much more court involvement than others.

To find out if an action has been filed, you may:

In Person:

Robert A. Barclay Justice Center
205 S East Street
Alturas, CA 96101
United States


You may ask the court to waive all or some of the fees by completing the applicable fee waiver request forms, and if granted an order will be made as to the fees waived. Forms may be obtained in person at the Hall of Justice or you may visit the California Courts' Self-Help page Asking for a fee waiver if you can't afford filing fees for additional information.

Fee Waiver

You can request copies through the clerk's office, either online, in person, or by mail.

See the Remote Appearances page for information on remote appearances. Zoom and CourtCall (telephonic) appearances are permitted for certain circumstances in Probate cases.

There are many situations where an estate does not require formal probate. Even when formal probate is not required, some form of legal process is often necessary. This is especially true when an estate owns an interest in real property.

The probate proceeding must be filed in the county where the decedent resided or owned real property.

If the deceased person's property is worth $166,250 or less and you have the legal right to inherit from the deceased person, you may not have to go to court to get the property. You should visit the California Courts' Self-Help page Simplified Procedures to Transfer an Estate to see if this applies to you before the proceeding.

The court does not appoint attorneys for probate cases. You may hire private counsel of your choosing.

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